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Porcelain and Poisons

07 Mar

The Journal of Sherlock Holmes Esq.

Though I do not usually succumb to Watson’s habit of recording my reflections on our adventures, the probability of our imminent demise encouraged me to put down on paper what may well be the last words I ever write. Borrowing a few pages from Watson’s diary, I collected my thoughts.

With Mary now in the clutches of Maudie Ratched, the time had come to make a move. But before I could proceed, Watson leaned forwards.

‘A teaspoon, Holmes?’

I shrugged. ‘Had Moran’s men issued us with a paring knife, I would of course have urged Mary to secrete it about her person.’

‘Maybe she could sharpen it on a brick,’ said Lestrade. ‘That’s what the blokes do in Wormwood Scrubs.’

‘Of course,’ muttered Watson with more than a smidgen of sarcasm. ‘And perhaps she could stab Ratched and Moran and all the other villains, allowing us to make our escape.’

I waved a hand at him. ‘Keep your voice down, John. Walls have ears.’ I glanced at the two thugs by the door, but they were engaged in a game of cards and took no notice.

‘I suppose you’ve got a better plan, eh?’ said Watson, giving me a hard stare.

Picking up my cup, I shook out the tealeaves and examined its base. ‘Not a plan as such, John, but a possibility.’

‘I see,’ said my effervescent companion. ‘We’ll bash their heads in with bone china.’

I allowed myself a sardonic smile. ‘You’ve written a good deal about Colonel Moran, haven’t you, Watson?’

He sniffed. ‘Suppose I have.’

‘Would you say he were the sort of chap to use fine china?’

He frowned. ‘Actually, no. Not at all. If anything, I’d expect him to drink from a workman’s mug, the sort of thing labourers might use.’

‘Precisely,’ said I, examining the saucer. ‘So, why are we drinking from Wedgewood teacups?’

Watson picked up his own cup and looked at it. ‘Wedgewood. Well, I never.’

We sat for a moment, each of us staring at the teacups, when Lestrade chipped in.

‘Posh stuff, ain’t it? More the sort of fing a lord would use, eh?’

‘For once, Lestrade, you’re absolutely right.’ I grinned and waited for the proverbial coin to hit the floor.

‘Oh, fuck,’ said Watson. ‘They’re not Moran’s—they’re Blackwood’s.’

‘Which means what?’

‘That he is in league with Blackwood after all.’

‘Possibly,’ said I, ‘though there may be another explanation. Also, Mary’s observations are suggestive.’

 ‘Of what?’ said Watson. ‘You don’t think…’

At this point, whatever toxic substance Moran had put in our drinks began to take effect. Watson nodded off in mid-sentence. While trying to wake him, Lestrade slid to the floor, eyes flickering and tongue lolling like a dog on a hot day. Making myself comfortable, I waited for sleep or death, whichever option our enemy had chosen for us.

Some hours later, I awoke to find I had been laid on a rough wooden bench in a room without windows. Testing the air, I inhaled deeply, finding a distinct aroma of damp, decay and an oddly familiar fragrance. Peering through the gloom, I made out a hunched figure against the far wall. Struggling to my feet, I stumbled across the stone floor and grasped Lestrade’s hand, shaking it.

‘Wha…’ he murmured. ‘Wha’s goin on?’ Sitting up, he blinked and stared at me. ‘Shirl? That you?’

‘It is. Where’s Watson?’

Lestrade stood up, holding on to me for support. ‘There’s somethin in the corner.’

We stumbled across the room to what appeared to be a pile of mouldy blankets next to a heavy door with iron hinges and found John Watson hunched beside it, breathing heavily.

I gave him a nudge. ‘Watson? Come along, old chap. Wake up.’

He blinked several times and after a moment or two came to his senses. ‘Where are we?’

‘Some sort of cellar,’ said Lestrade.

‘Dungeon, more like,’ said I. ‘Clearly our captors have moved us to another location, though if they still intend to kill us, it would hardly seem worth the effort.’

Struggling to his feet, Watson examined the rest of our prison. ‘Where’s Mary? She’s not here, Holmes.’

‘No, but a certain aroma suggests she may be nearby.’

‘Aroma?’

‘Yes, Watson.’ I waited while he sniffed the air.

‘What is it,’ he muttered, still sniffing.

‘As always, John, you inhale but you do not evaluate. I suggest a combination of Bulgarian rose, musk, ambergris and bergamot, if I’m not mistaken.’

‘Of course—Fleurs de Bulgarie. Mary’s favourite scent.’

‘What de what?’ said Lestrade.

I resisted rolling my eyes. ‘A perfume presented to the old queen in the mid-eighteen-forties. It has become quite popular with ladies of Mary’s class.’

Watson took out a box of Swan Vestas and lit a match. Holding it up, all three of us searched the upper walls of our cell until we spotted a barred window near the ceiling.

Taking Lestrade’s arm, I pulled him to a spot beneath the aperture. ‘Be a good fellow and make a step.’

Cupping his hands, Lestrade leaned against the wall while I planted one foot in his grip and hauled myself upwards, almost level with the window. ‘Mary?’ I whispered. ‘Are you in there?’

I perceived a scuffling noise from the cell next door. ‘Sherlock? Is that you?’

‘It is,’ I said. ‘I’m in here with John and Lestrade. Are you hurt?’

She gave a short laugh. ‘No, but Maudie Rached won’t be sticking her fingers into anyone for a while.’

‘Are you in a position to escape?’ I listened hard, eager for some morsel of hope.

‘No. There’s only the cell door and this tiny window.’

I dropped to the floor and crossed to our own door, running my hands up and down its frame, examining the hinges and lock.

‘What d’you think, Holmes?’ said Watson.

‘I think we’re in a tight spot. As is your wife.’

We stood and looked at each other in the gloom, each of us no doubt wondering how much longer we might have left to live.

At that precise moment, a key rattled in the lock and the door opened. Colonel Moran stood there, a pistol in one hand and two of his henchmen on either side.

‘Ah, Holmes,’ he said, caressing his beard. ‘Glad to see you and your friends are awake at last. I expect you’re wondering how much longer you have to live, eh?’

‘Actually,’ I quipped, ‘we were speculating how much longer you have left to live.’

Moran forced a smile. ‘Very funny, Holmes. Now, if you’d all like to come with us, I shall introduce you to the machinery which will bring about your deaths.’

I glanced at my companions and let out a heartfelt sigh. ‘My apologies, friends. I should never have dragged you into this mess.’

Watson laid a hand on my arm. ‘Don’t worry, Holmes. We’ll come through this, one way or another.’

I opened my mouth to reply but no sound came out. Fearing my emotions might for once get the better of me, I simply coughed, held up my head and walked through the door. Whatever fate awaited us, it seemed the world’s greatest detective had met his match.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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